Capitol Heresies!

I will be appearing in Capitol Hill tomorrow to speak at a conference on Immigration, Integration and Identity. My little intervention will focus on the issue of Integration & Introspection. My main point can be summarized as follows:



To facilitate the integration of Muslim communities in the traditional redoubts of western culture and civilization, namely Europe and the US, each side needs to be self-critical and not just critical of the other. But in truth, and while some criticism along these lines seems to be taking place among western intellectuals and policymakers, we are seeing little serious introspection on part of the Muslim communities involved. This seems to be one of the main driving forces behind the growing frustration of certain figures and groups in the West, both Muslim and non-Muslim. The result: many have begun to vent their frustration in ways that are simply too confrontational and sensational to allow for viable dialogue.

33 thoughts on “Capitol Heresies!

  1. I see a diffrence between the US and the EU , people in the US are treated more fairly than in Euorop,the growing pain of assembling in the US is simmiler to other nationalities like the Irish ,the Italians and most of all the Blacks ,in the US nobody asks me about my religion and i am equal under the law and that is enough for me i can not expect all people to like me but as long as i have equal rights ,i beleive when they know me they will like me and when they know more of muslems and arabs they will like us .so the more we are envolled in the comunity the more we are part of that comunity.

  2. I agree Norman. Despite the Patriot Act ad its negative effects, migrants of Arab and Muslim background are treated much better in the US due to the multinational character of its country to begin with. In fact, I should have probably mentioned that the conference is sponsored by the Austrian Embassy and will focus more Europe than the US.

  3. Western countries: their media should act more responsibly when they portray Arabs and Muslims for example. Those B-rated action movies involving “Arab terrorists” are really not very helpful.On the other side, I think Immigration has to make it clear to those wanting to immigrate to North America or Europe that it is not only about making money and sending their children to good universities … it will need some conformity to the general values and Laws of the host country. Some Immigration candidates might need to learn new concepts … like respecting the opinions of those you disagree with, respecting other religions, women’s rights …I have met so many immigrants to Montreal who had a miserable experience here. They did not know why, but it was basically because there was no way they could adapt to that very different culture … no one ever explained to them how different it was….

  4. Speaking as an ex-Muslim, but one who is rather familiar with how the communities function, especially on college campuses, I can say with appreciable candor that Muslim organizations in the US have been politically inept for quite some time. Only recently have the leaders (or rather, public representatives) of these things caught on to how the system works (I think this is due mainly to the maturity of a number of first-generation Muslims rather than an actual change of hear) and they’ve started to apply the appropriate levels of diplomacy to their public opinions. Generally, though, I don’t think this attitude has yet penetrated through the masses.In understanding the American Muslim community, though, I think a focal point should definitely be generational tensions between the “uncles” and those that were born or raised here in integrated schools, not the exclusively Muslim ones.That said, Muslims do have reasons to be weary of what is going on and how they respond to it. The response to 9/11 was pathetic and unacceptable. Frankly, if Muslim leaders in America want to be taken seriously, they cannot give half-hearted condemnations of terrorist attacks or violence around the world. A statement like “we condemn this BUT… it was justified” won’t cut it anymore, even if it is correct. They must marginalize the extremists, regardless of what the extremists’ cause may be, before the extremists marginalize them.Also, Alex, I categorically reject your criticism of anti-Arab B movies. This topic is always given too much hype amongst people like you (ie, “look at those movies! they really hate us!!”). As politically incorrect as it may sound, these stereotypes exist for a reason. The burden is on the Muslim community to correct them, not to censor them.

  5. Yaman,”This topic is always given too much hype amongst people like you (ie, “look at those movies! they really hate us!!”). “What do you know about me to say “always ….people like you?”Look at my profile please and try to guess who are the other “people like me”:)But I agree with your assessment of the improving media skills of muslim organizations.

  6. Alex,I apologize for the way that came across. “People like you” is not a very nice thing to say and I’m afraid my connotation-meter was off as I wrote this. I have finals tomorrow, give me a break =)I was referring to the Arabs-in-movies thing though. I think this issue is given more significance than it actually has.

  7. Yaman,I want to disagree with your attitude that the stereotypes that are proliferated in America about Arabs are benign. I think it is easy for you and many younger arab americans to dismiss this because of more recent progressive changes in attitudes, especially present in places like San Francisco. However, on a personal note, having grown up in the North East in the early 70’s, I have to say that the profoundly negative images in media and film were absolutely devastating to me (and I am only half arab). Frankly, despite my great love for the film The Black Stallion in 1979, such films with portrayals of ugly, violent, and immoral arabs (more recently ‘True Lies’ comes to mind ).. do have an impact. It took me six years of therapy and being already into my third decade of life to realize how deeply affected I was by such stereotypes, to the point of a certain wish to deny this aspect of my heritage. Frankly, it was Osama bin Laden who finally gave me myself , in the face of the hugely offensive dialogue following 9/11 when i finally recognized the seething prejudices which had always existed in this country but only then forcefully came to the surface. It was then that I was able to purge all internalized self-hate and embrace a fighting pride about my arab core. Of course, stereotypes are created out of grains of culture ‘truth’, but so what. They are also massive distortions of complex realities reduced to vulgar representations of identity. The harm they do is sometimes negligle (eg the italian stereotypes we all love of mafia movies),, but more often, they are severely damaging – especially when these are the ONLY images of a certain ethnic or cultural group that are out there. Nobody would dare create such offensive hollywood imagery of older immigrant groups (irish, german, jews, italians). For anyone interested in the subject of representations of the east the west as they have historically evolved, I would highly recommend Edward Said’s book -Orientalism.

  8. Forget Ed Said and all that baloney.If I wanted to make he Arabs look bad, I could not dream of making up the ACTUAL REAL STUFF that happens and is said in the Middle East.I come from there and I know and remember why I left. Of course not everyone is a terrorist, but the stereotypes come from a real place.And the activists in the US, IMO , are doing ME and the community a disservice. They suck.

  9. Ammar,I think this is the first time I fully agree with everything you’ve said in a post. Especially regarding the Muslim communities (and nations if I may add) failure to criticize their own philosophy. There is no doubt that both sides have issues, but IMHO Muslim nations/communities have excelled at this failure. By foolishly laying back and watching these problems spread like cancer. Or by relying on outsiders to come and solve/exacerbate the problems. Unfortunately, proactiveness is a word that cannot be found in our government’s/religious leaders dictionary.But I missed any solutions you might suggest???Josey Wales,One day you will have to come to term with your racism. Of course stereotypes come from somewhere but that does not make them any less wrong. But hey I am not about to change your ignorant mind so let me give up right about now.

  10. A number of things….Zenobia: I cannot speak for what the prevailing images were in the 70s, though I can guess that due to the oil embargo, wars, and activity of the PLO and other groups in staging international kidnappings etc, that they were not flattering. But again, the point is, they were not invented. We can talk about orientalism as a serious problem of the Western view of the Middle East, but we *cannot* blame orientalists for this. The burden is on us to correct the stereotypes, not censor them.Ammar,Have you seen this? :The Arrest of Michel KiloThe Syrian Security Authorities have arrested today the distinguished journalist and author Mr. Michel Kilo because of his writings and activities that propagate democracy. It is said that the direct reason for his arrest is related to his connection with Damascus-Beirut Declaration which was issued three days ago on 12/5/2006. The Syrian Human Rights Committee condemns with the strongest terms the arrest of Mr. Kilo considering it as arbitrary, unfair and does collides with the simplest Human Rights rules in expressing one�s viewpoints. SHRC requests the immediate release of Mr. Kilo in addition to all detainees who had been arrested because of expressing their opinions or because of their peaceful activities. The Syrian Human Rights Committee15/5/2006

  11. Sorry NorthEastWest&South, but EdSaid’s hoax (which had for a while turned an honorable discipline into a 4-letter word) has been debunked by at least 3 devastating critiques. here: here: the fact that Said is patently condescending, if not outright racist, vis-à-vis the Arabs (wasn’t he the one who “intellectualized” the canard of the Arabs’ “victimology”? that the Arabs are incapable of self-inflicting their wounds? that their ills are not homegrown, but rather the outcome of Western rapacity?? etc.. etc.. etc…???),his methodology (a literary critic by formation) is seriously flawed!

  12. Yaman,Indeed, I read about Michel’s arrest this morning, before I left for the conference. I will have something to say about this later this evening. But, for now, I have to rush for another appointment. And of course, I do agree with you regarding the fact that orientalist did not invent or imagine our problems for us. More soon.

  13. One day you will have to come to term with your racism.Thanks Tarek-Innocent-Fool, I can’t wait.Unfortunately the same cannot be said about your stupidity, which is terminal.

  14. Dear Mr. I am not an Arab but a Phoenician,I realize where you are coming from, and I am sorry I mentioned dreaded Said and offended your superior sensibilities. Hopefully somebody will notify Columbia of the “hoax”, so they can take away that Chair in his name.Meanwhile…..the nice thing about writers and academics (yourself included) is that if we don’t agree with them, we don’t have to read their writing or accept their ideas..But maybe we should anyway….as I know you do. Similarly, I actually appreciate you providing some links for me to further educate myself about such the devastating critiques.

  15. Regarding my earlier comment…. For clarification – I think I was trying to say something about representations (stereotypes) not realities necessarily. Representations ARE interpretated ‘inventions’ even if realities are not. I believe Yaman is saying that there are REAL factual behaviors and events that need introspection and to be changed. Of course this is true. And I agree that the images don’t Cause the realities. But they can exacerbate racism and increase ignorance. My initial comment was in response to the issue of imagery and movies as depictions which hold damaging stereotypes, representations that distort and are inherently reductionistic and thereby misleading about cultural and religious complexity . Introspection both about realities and cultural perceptions seem both relevant to the issue of integration and assimilation, the subject of the original post.

  16. I am very surprised to see you Zenobia calling your self a Phoenician not an Arab and from what I read I felt that you are more of a Arab than many others ,as you know people consider us Arabs no matter which Arab country we come from or what our religion or ethnic background we have ,I believe that we are Arabs Semitics because through history we all came from Arabia during the drought Aramaic Assyrians Babylonians and others ,so as an Aramaic Christian orthodox I consider myself an Arab and I am proud of it and I tell that to my patients , yes I tell them , I am a Syria Arab., nobody left my practice because I am a Syrian Arab. but told they were lucky to be here to tare of them .

  17. Norman, As I understood it, Zenobia was not claiming to be Phoenician. I think she was referring to JoseyWales as “Mr. I-Am-Not-An-Arab-But-A-Phoenician” to mock him. Of course, I do not know if he has ever claimed that because I haven’t been following the comment threads recently. Anyway, if he hasn’t, then I guess that blows my theory out of the water.

  18. tood for you norman! teep taring for them, you little twat!tell me somthing, moron! how were you able to fit all this gibberish in one sentence???”as you know people consider us Arabs no matter which Arab country we come from or what our religion or ethnic background we have ,I believe that we are Arabs Semitics because through history we all came from Arabia during the drought Aramaic Assyrians Babylonians and others ,so as an Aramaic Christian orthodox I consider myself an Arab and I am proud of it and I tell that to my patients , yes I tell them , I am a Syria Arab.,” didn’t they teach you anything about “punctuation” in med school??that’s number one, and it deals with mechanics!now on to more substantive stuff; your blatant factual slopiness. Doctor! (makes me wonder how you must “tare” for your patients.)”I believe that we are Arabs Semitics because through history we all came from Arabia during the drought”huh? Arabs and “semitics” are synonymous, doctor? pft!! tell me something, where did you graduate from, sa3sa3?”we all came from Arabia??”btw, there isn’t one shred of archeological evidence to corroborate that myth; a myth incidently built on the more Muslim conquest of the 7th century, then retrojected to fit an unknown pre-Islamic situation. Show me the archeology corroborating your moronic claim.What fucking drought are you talking about, twat!? “Aramaic Assyrians Babylonians and others ,so as an Aramaic Christian orthodox I consider myself an Arab and I am proud of it and I tell that to my patients , yes I tell them , I am a Syria Arab., “maybe this is normal comprehensible syntax in Syria. not here, dottore!

  19. Zenobia of the East & WestPlease analyze z3ouré’s personality for us, can you?z3ouré, please wait until Zenobia adds her comments before you reply to both of us in an even more sarcastic way…. The more sarcastic, the more impressed those of us who are Syrian will be impressed with your superiority.Then Innocent Criminal, if you can jump in and engage z3ouré in a sarcasm match. Then, we can all go on endlessly arguing about … it.Only then, we can find out who is the most intelligent human type created by God … the Lebanese type of the much different Syrian Type.You got my point z3ouré?

  20. Laugh!How nice to return to such an amusing bit of sparing…..too bad I am on the west coast, and you are all asleep by now……?So, to clarify,,,for Norman…I was not referring to myself, I was addressing Ecce Libanus as Mr. Phoenician (not JoseyWales) who slammed me for being so ignorant as to mention Ed Said as if he was anything more than a “literary critic.”but guess what!…Mr. Phoenician’s alter ego has appeared shortly after …..enter z3foure….hmmmthey both seem to like to use the word “retrojected” and demand archeological evidence. oh well…analyze his personality? laugh…maybe he has mulitiples…cause z3foure….is rather obscene unlike his alter. Either that, or he’s drunk. (Phoenicians like to imbibe) “Twat”? that is a nasty word for part of the female anatomy.No, seriously, Libanus….maybe we should meet…I am coming to Boston for the next month. I would really like to get a load of you in person to see what this is all about. You know I am an innocent here. I barely understand this raging fury over Arabism, Arab nationalism, history of migrations, Phoenicians, archeological evidence, and the ‘myth’ of arab origins in the middle east. Yet, you are ready to fight to the death over it!. Christ I just got here. I am desperately trying to grasp it all as it is. You want to give me a personal lecture on the philosophy of Ecce Libanus, philology of arabic verses Lebanese, and the big “hoax”. Be my guest, drop me an email. I seriously want to hear it.Andover is a nice suburb, I am ready. I dare you.Weren’t we supposed to be talking about something important here? I feel like bad school children. Ammar will return and see this garbage.

  21. Ok, one revision. I realize, Ecce L…didn’t slam me personally….just ‘professor’ Said. still…..i felt a mean condescending tone coming through……

  22. Ok, this is getting too confusing, let me summarize everyone’s mistakes so that Ammar knows what marks to give each student, when he comes back from Capitol HillNorman: 1) Zenobia did not call herself Phoenician. You got that part wrong2) According to z3ouré, you made so many grammar and history mistakes that you should be shot.Yaman:Zenobia was NOT referring to JoseyWales as “”Mr. I-Am-Not-An-Arab-But-A-Phoenician” … she was referring to Ecce Libanusz3ouré:Not a single mistake … you deserve a perfect mark.Zenobia“and you are all asleep by now…” is wrong. I am still awake. Actually you only lose half a mark (you added the question mark at the end) And I am sooo sleepy.

  23. Ok …. Let me contribute, after all I didn’t for a long time now, and I should show some attendance right? I suggest all of you be punished regardless of your marks! After all that’s what we learned during Obligatory Military Service back home in Syria, all will be punished for one’s mistake! Ain’t that great?!As for Arabs and origins, I thought we as humans passed that point didn’t we? Or at least in theory on this blog? Or are we still looking for an identity? I understand that some of us is/are frustrated of all the slogans and propaganda, but is doesn’t mean that we are not who we are, I was born in Syria, was raised there and very recently left, and don’t know when/if I can go back home!Still the question is there, how we define our selves and where do we belong? I believe there are many levels/circles of belonging, and each is true and valid, my idea is: as humans we move up the levels one by one till we reach the humanitarian level without giving up the lower levels if I may. I met many who hate to be reminded of their Arab or Muslim origins, but this doesn’t change what they are, and if they want to deny or reject their roots, what other choice is there?I also want to subscribe for the Dreamers Society, and here is my thesis: I wish/imagine living in virtual world without passports, where everybody is accepted for what he is, on the condition that he/she don’t hurt each other in anyway verbally, physically, or mentally. Unless he/she is Lebanese of course ………. Hah……..joking of course, knowing the fact that half of my relatives are Lebanese, to calm whom ever is not right now : )Very important Ps. Don’t mark this peace please, or any other in fact, I admit to being self educated, English language wise! And I hope I won’t be called as Norman was called! I had to look it up in google search : ) before Zenobia kindly explained. Which reminds me people? Am having really hard time understanding what you are talking about without my on line Dictionary. : )Yalla, khalouna nshoufkom.

  24. I’m sorry Hammam but I’m afraid you will not escape your bad mark merely by resorting to Self-deprecating humor.”Very important Ps. Don’t mark this peace please”peace = سلامI have no clue how Ammar and Zenobia and IC and Ihsani and Ugarit manage, but the rest of us Syrians are obviously still more comfortable communicating in Gawwar Touchai’s language

  25. Thanks to people trying to deffend me ,Let me make thing clear so nobody has to shoot me ,I do not know how to write well and do not know how to spell and have very bad handwriting ,one day ,my fourth grader kid made fun of my wrting telling me that he needed a (fourth gade sentences for his words),now after i made that clear and that i do not care about attacking me for these reasons ,at least i am polite, I think of this post as a place to exchange ideas not take tests in spelling or editing,by attaking me he changed the subject from who are the Arabs and how do we define them to a personal attack so do not let him and go back to subject matter.

  26. Now, this was a very interesting exchange. I will be back to full blogging mode later this evening, with a few things to say about Kilo, identity and integration. Talk to you soon!

  27. Looking over this exchange anew today, I realize that underneath the raucous childish banter, it is not garbage at all. A strong thread runs through it all…which has to do with issues of Identity and self-definition, and this is completely relevant to the subject of integration and introspection. It seems that arab americans and arabs in general and muslims are trapped in a bind of defensiveness and a self protective stance born of wanting to maintain their pride, be to be seen as more than negative stereotypes. At the same time – this protectiveness leads to much denial, lack of self criticism, and very much prevents a healthy introspection about the problems with the ME and religion etc. On a flip side are the defectors, (the Josey Wales s of the world?)..who have gone far to negate their cultural inheritance (much as i tried myself once) and forge an alter identity….(in Josey’s case, ….. apparently one related to an american wild west cowboy, or perhaps as son of Clint Eastwood!)But let me quote Hammam Yousef here, despite his self pro-claimed bad english, i think he conveyed the underlying point beautifully…….”Still the question is there, how we define our selves and where do we belong?I believe there are many levels/circles of belonging, and each is true and valid, my idea is: as humans we move up the levels one by one till we reach the humanitarian level without giving up the lower levels if I may. I met many who hate to be reminded of their Arab or Muslim origins, but this doesn’t change what they are, and if they want to deny or reject their roots, what other choice is there?”I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment here, but….hey….we are in the ‘Dreamers’ club together. I will look forward to what Ammar has to say on any of this and more.

  28. Zenobia,Your problem is that you let others define you.I don’t. I don’t negate anything I do not want to negate, just like I don’t embrace everything in my new adoptive country. Before all 9/11, and even before I left my homeland, I knew what I wanted to identify with and what I did not.Here we go again. You seem like a nice person but people like you want to tell me that I do not know my indentity, or that I negate my “true” self.Who are you to tell me that? How do you know anything about my identity? You’re going to tell me about my true self?Don’t you think it a bit presumptious and arrogant?We’ve had this debate a zillion times on the blogs and some people don’t want to get it: My identity is mine, not yours.Who says that CAIR or the Arab Anti-defamation League speak for ME if I say that I reject them and the ground upon which they walk?

  29. Josey Wales,I am a nice person. I am often presumptuous, but never arrogant. My mistake – I probably should not have used your name or you as any example for a point because you are correct that I don’t know you really nor anything about how you really define yourself particularly or whether there was any negation for you or not. However, it seems as though you reject much that one might have thought you would be inherently connected to. My attention is more on the fact that you have the ability and you do reject, not a judgment of whether you should or not. For some people there occurs a kind of negation. In my case, when i did that, it was a very negative thing, but that is not inherently so. Also, I didn’t actually mean to criticize your having made a choice of identity, no matter what it is. (Even though i made a little of fun of the particular blogging identity) I agree with you…that each person makes a choice. And to me Identity is, by definition, how we self-define. It doesn’t matter what our heritage is literally or what the archeological evidence for any of us really is. For the record, I am not someone others have defined. I have spent my whole life attempting to find my own definition that feels true to me. That is common for many of us (particularly Americans struggle with this) on myriad levels.I am a person who believes in a high degree of relativism…and perspectivism. I privilege the representational aspects of life…. over any supposed “reality” or “truth”. Therefore, I sympathize that everything is up for grabs and is a matter of perception and choice.

  30. Zenobia,Thanks for your response and clarification.BTW I don’t have a problem, with people poking fun at my real, presumed, or fake identity. My problem is with those wanting to dictate my identity.See u on the blogs.

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